” Is Growth a Prerequisite for Long-Term Community Health and Prosperity?
By David Morley, AICP
APA’s Planning Advisory Service Coordinator
For most planners the obvious answer to the title question is probably no. But if this is the case, why is it so hard to articulate a realistic and compelling vision for community health and prosperity for a city with a declining population?
The answer, in part, is that the dominant planning paradigm in the United States has always been growth oriented. In other words, communities typically make plans to accommodate or manage demand for new development. Moreover, local planning programs frequently depend primarily on private development for plan implementation. If that development never happens, the community’s vision will not come to fruition.
This doesn’t mean the dominant planning paradigm fails to acknowledge the potential for a decline in demand. On the contrary, many local planning programs focus great attention on neighborhoods suffering from disinvestment and decline. However, the proposed solution for struggling communities almost invariably involves public investment to spur catalytic private development, with the ultimate goal of reigniting demand. This approach is perhaps best typified by the massive slum clearance initiatives of the urban renewal era or the arms race over state-of-the-art downtown sports stadiums in the decades that followed.
The fundamental problem with the classic, growth-oriented planning paradigm is that it simply doesn’t work for the hundreds, if not thousands, of cities in the U.S. who’ve suffered decades of depopulation and disinvestment due to sprawl, deindustrialization, or Sun Belt migration.
Yes, I’m talking about ruin-porn pinups like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, but I’m also talking about smaller cities like Saginaw, Michigan, or Dayton, Ohio, that receive less attention but are nevertheless facing the same challenges.
As authors Joseph Schilling and Alan Mallach, FAICP, explain in the new PAS report titled Cities in Transition (PAS 568), growth-oriented planning hasn’t just failed post-industrial shrinking cities; it isn’t working for many inner-ring suburbs like Euclid, Ohio, or Orange, New Jersey, either. These aging suburbs have inherited many of the problems associated with their central cities; however, they frequently lack assets like regional employment centers or cultural institutions that remain bright spots for many traditional urban centers.
Perhaps more surprisingly, growth-oriented planning may have run its course both in smaller cities that have undergone rapid demographic shifts due to in-migration from other countries and in a number of Sun Belt cities that can no longer pin their economic hopes on new home construction.”
Via: APA Sustaining Places
Image: A new family tree of planning. Freely adapted from Kaiser and Godschalk 1995.